Thursday, September 25, 2014

Goals in the ring

Ahhh, blogging. Where have you gone? Away with my time on other things that seem unimportant now. Now I have time to blog again … maybe. Let’s see how this goes.

There are several goals we’re chasing right now. Dare I say them? Devon’s MACH, Devon’s UD, Spring’s UD, Spring’s TD. These are really big goals; career goals, work their whole life goals. But those things bring pressure. And pressure is something Devon and I don’t handle well together, especially when things start going badly. Like weave pole base changes. We “get in each other’s heads” and not in a good way. I worry about her, she worries about me. Not pretty.

But last month I learned about a woman who lost a great dog way too early. In fact, he was younger than Devon and Spring. I don’t know either of them well, but I met her when Devon was 20 months old the day she earned her TDX in Frederick, Maryland. She was so excited about getting her puppy. They accomplished great things: an OTCH and at least one trip to the NOI; they were on double Q #19 for his MACH and he was getting ready to enter VST tests this fall. And then he was gone.

The weekend following his death, I had all three of my pups entered in an obedience trial. I’ll be completely honest: I wanted one UD leg for Devon or Spring that weekend, and I wanted to earn Page’s CDX. It was possible; I had the dogs and the training to do it. But it was not the goal I should have had. Qs shouldn’t be goals, performance should be the goal.

But the more I thought about that great dog gone to soon, I thought if his owner suddenly got one more chance with him, what would be more important, the MACH ribbon or the feeling of teamwork and adrenaline as they competed in the ring? I know the answer.

That weekend my goals changed. My goal was to fully enjoy every moment in the ring with my dogs. We train to get to the competition, but if we don’t enjoy competing with our teammates, why are we there?

I ran into a friend in the parking lot at the trial. This is an agility friend who wasn’t entered in the obedience trial. We talked about this subject and later in the day she brought me a necklace that I had to have. It’s a quote by Gail Storm that many are familiar with “The real joy is in the privilege and ability to step to the start line with your dog by your side, not in the crossing of the finish line, victorious over others.”

I’m less concerned about being victorious over others. I’m focused on my team’s success against the test. But it’s not about ticking another check box off a list for a title. I want to take the time to feel and live and enjoy the moments with my dog. I won’t have those forever, and I want to enjoy each and every one.

Here’s the way I told someone recently that I wanted to run agility with my dogs: I want my dog rocking that course and I want to be running for broke, because that’s the only fun way to do this sport. I need to build into my dogs so they give it back and want to give it back. I want the adrenaline rush that a truly on edge team gives you when the run comes together.

Interestingly, Tori Self said something similar in her blog post this week. This is how she described her runs with Rev last weekend: One thing I thought would not be helpful was babysitting. So I didn’t. I committed to each course, gave Rev all I had, and she lit up and met me all the way.

Monday, December 31, 2012

It's New Year's Eve: 2013 Goals

Wow, I don't get to blog very much any more. I think about lots of things I'd like to blog about ... it's time I don't have. Maybe I'll be better about it in 2013.

So those pesky goals for 2013. I've been thinking about them for several weeks. I like how Kathy Keats posed her questions in the conclusion of the Agility Mind Gym series in Clean Run's December 2012 issue, so I'll use those questions to frame my goals this year.

What have you learned about yourself in the last 12 months?

What a deep question, especially this year. I have learned to endure. I have learned to endure through pain and loss and disappointment and frustration. I'm not patient, so this is hard for me. I don't always do it well ... who am I kidding, I never do it well. But I find at the end of 2012, I might be at peace. Let's see if I can stay that way.

What have you changed about yourself in the last 12 months?

I'm getting serious about keeping my body in shape. Severe sciatic pain in mid-October when I couldn't walk for nearly a day and a half was my wake up call. I still have pain most days, but I'm getting better and I can finally move. I need to be stronger, and I'm working toward that goal.

What do you want to improve about yourself in the next 12 months?
I want to improve my physical condition, for my dogs and for myself. I demand a lot of my body, but only during part of my day. I need to have the fitness to continue what I love doing. It's hard to train dogs when you're in pain.

In my handling, I need to be more intentional while running courses. Neither of my dogs is ready for me to make assumptions (are they ever?). Devon feels the disconnect and stresses and heads for the ring gates. Page goes by jumps.

In my training, I need to be more diligent. Work on something every day. Fine tune when the weather is bad and I'm stuck inside. Take advantage when I have opportunities for more training.

Part 2 -- Ok! Enough about me! Onto the pups!

What have you learned about Devon in the last 12 months?

Devon can shake off bad training decisions on my part and the ghosts of issues past. She has shown me, especially in the last several trials, that she can literally shake it off and continue to run confidently. What could have been a setback isn't anymore.

I have also learned that I need to give Devon lots of time to work out training and become confident. While Devon is bright and learns quickly, it takes her time to be comfortable with training and learned exercises. I wish I had learned this earlier, because she's been telling me this for years. All the obedience training we have done for years came together this spring for her CD. I tried to rush her into the ring and she was stressed and unsure of herself. When she was ready, we got three straight legs with one placement and compliments on her heeling.

The same is true in agility. We came into 2012 with one MX leg, four MXJ legs and 38 MACH points. In spite of some struggles from March through May, Devon ends 2012 with 14 MXJ legs, eight MX legs, 180 MACH points and three double Qs. And more importantly than the stats, for the last three months I've had people stop me at trials and tell me Devon has never run better, faster or more confidently. People can't tell Devon and Page apart on course anymore. 

How has Devon changed in the last 12 months?

Devon is a much more confident agility dog this year. Decisions I've made to run with her from the start, jackpot problem obstacles and reward speed have paid off. She's within 2-3 seconds of Page on many runs. This confidence in known environments has paid off in new places. This year she has several Qs in other locations besides those where we train. This weekend she Q'd in a place she could hardly run in when she started there 27 months ago. She was fast and confident in her weaves. And even when stressed, she shook it off and moved on.

What do you want to improve in your dog in the next 12 months?

I want to continue to build on this confidences and translate it into fast confident runs that are clean with weaves on the first attempt. To do this, I need to be focused and purposeful while still continuing to jackpot her and reward her speed. Devon has shown me she can handle me maintaining criteria and only rewarding criteria, not just every try.

In obedience, I want to finish teaching her utility exercises and perfect them. Devon is solid on a couple of exercises, and spotty on most exercises. It's time to push her through to completion. Even though we are having a ball in agility, we need to begin to focus on the next phase of her career, which is obedience. With training and effort and using the same rewarding and jackpotting techniques I've used in agility, I see great things in obedience training. Now we need to complete that picture and polish it up!

What have you learned about your dog in the last 12 months?
Page is working very hard to read my handling cues in agility. I can see her effort in class and in trials. And she's doing all this without losing speed. She's slowing down to read my cues, and as we become a better team, I'm sure she'll get faster at reading my handling -- and I'll get faster at providing it!

How has your dog changed in the last 12 months?
Page is maturing and not being as willful as she has previously. Oh sure, I still get a long discussion at the table, especially last weekend when I asked her to by pass a tunnel, which she did, only to present her with a table, which she didn't appreciate. But her startlines are become very solid, and we're doing a better job of teamwork.

What do you want to improve in your dog in the next 12 months?
Now that we've come to an understanding about staying for startlines, collecting into weave poles and most of the time stopping for the table (although she does tell me what she thinks), we must get these contacts in hand. I was encouraged two weeks ago when she acknowledged the A frame contact and decelerated and hit it and she even gave me 2o2o for the dogwalk!! But this weekend away from home they fell apart.

So that's our goals for 2013. We'll see how we do with them in about 12 months!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sad news about Connor

On Thursday we found out Connor has very advanced stage lymphoma. He's been living with my parents since the first of March because itLink had become difficult for him to manage the stairs at my house. Two weeks ago it became apparent something else was going on, and we had him examined and blood draw last Tuesday.

We made the decision not to do any further "treatment" because his blood work looked very bad. He's 12 years old and has spondylosis. He's had a great life and I didn't want to put him through anything painful at this point when it wouldn't even buy him much time. However, I did want to pursue some acupuncture for pain relief and appetite stimulation.

Today we met with Dr. Catherine Florence at Indiana Veterinary Alternatives. The lymphoma has progressed very rapidly. Just a week ago the only swollen lymph glands were in his face, and now every lymph gland he has his swollen. She said it wasn't good that lymph nodes in the front and back of his body (both sides of the diaphragm) were involved.

His nose and face are also swollen, and breathing through his is nose is difficult. When Dr. Florence heard how rapidly his symptoms had progressed and saw his current state, she agreed we were focused on making him comfortable.

Connor liked the acupuncture, and we could see immediate help with his nasal breathing. He has some Chinese herbs to take twice a day. His next appointment is next Tuesday. His eyelids were drooping before we left, so I think he's going to spend the rest of the day snoozing.

I thought I'd put in some photos of Connor's second agility trial hosted by the Cuyahoga Valley Golden Retriever Club in June of 2003. This was the trial where he earned his NA and NAJ. Connor is my first titled agility dog, even though I started agility in 1999 with Reece. I'm glad I have memories from this winter of Connor making up his own agility course, hopping over 4 inch bars and running through tunnels as I was trying to reset bars. His tail was going 100 mph and he had a big Golden smile on his face. I just stood and watched him play and smiled through tears. He's such a good boy!

I don't think it will be long before Connor is at the Rainbow Bridge playing with Reece. Well, actually Reece will be playing with him and bossing him around. Connor will likely be curling up with Reece and snuggling, which Reece will tolerate only if no one is watching!

Friday, March 9, 2012

How you play the "game"

This article by Rick Reilly on Peyton Manning really made me think. The theme of this article is about how Peyton was remarkable because of his grace and class. He held onto his "southern gentility." He said "yes, sir" and "no, sir." He tipped well and he took time with his fans. And in the end, when a decision was made that "would've gone down most guys' throats like a porcupine," he took it, smiled and ended it with grace.

As a player, Reilly notes that Manning watched more film and knew more about most defenses than the guys in them. He was the last one to go home at night and played bruised and sick even though his paycheck didn't change if he played or not. And the biggest story I didn't know:
"That Super Bowl win was classic you. Every day that whole week, you made your center, Jeff Saturday, spend an extra 15 minutes snapping you balls you'd soaked in a bucket of water. "It might rain," you said. So when it did, and Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman looked like he was throwing greased watermelons, you looked like you were throwing rocks."
So what can I apply from this article? My attitude is noticed. Being a good sport counts for something -- it counts for a lot! And preparation is vital. If my team of two is prepared, we can do anything. Right now, I could do a better job on both fronts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons from hosting a Super Bowl

Indianapolis hosted this year's Super Bowl, and it was a huge success. I can't imagine what it would take to put on a Super Bowl. I heard Allison Melangton, President and CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee, speak once more than a year ago, and I liked what she had to say. I also enjoyed reading this article and listening to the video clips from the IBJ.

I found three of her lessons learned inspiring:
  1. If you believe in something, be bold about it even if you have doubters.
  2. Don't let logistics get in the way of a great idea.
  3. Do what is your strength, not what others do.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

23.5 hours

So my plan for self-discipline has been going pretty well until this week. Priorities loomed and I felt "too busy." Then along came this YouTube video that I thought was very good, and I wanted to share it. I have been doing 35-45 minutes of exercise for a couple of weeks, and I've felt better than I have in months. Training the girls was more fun! This was good motivation to keep it up!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 Flashback: Devon's AX

I can’t let 2011 get too far in the past without a blog about Devon’s agility career. Agility has been tough for her, and a lot of it has had to do with training (i.e., it’s my fault). I took for granted the access to foundation training I had in Ohio, and I didn’t have it here. What I learned through Devon helped me create the agility foundation program I used with Page and now teach.

But Devon did come with a fear of movement and she’s very environmentally aware, so lack of confidence in her foundation along with those issues have caused training and confidence problems. And in Oct 2009, after earning her OA, Devon got spooked on the teeter in training and wouldn’t get back on it. It took her nearly 6 months to even start back with a board and a 1-inch dowel.

Then in June 2010, I pushed a weave performance one weekend during a 3-day trial when she was sore in her left shoulder (something she’s battled on and off for most of her career). That caused a weave confidence problem!

So 2011 was the year if we would figure out of Devon was really going to have an agility career. Other than tracking to finish her VST and some obedience training here and there, we focused on agility all year. And it paid off!

In 2011, Devon earned all three legs of her AX for her title, as well as her first MX leg. All three of her AX legs were earned at “home” training buildings. I had a slight worry that she’d never weave successfully away from home on the first try, when she earned her first MX leg in Zanesville, Ohio, proving me wrong! In addition to her first master’s standard leg, Devon earned three MXJ legs this year and a total of 30 MACH points.

While 30 MACH points in one year is certainly low, it represents a year of hard work for us. Most of her Qs and points came in the second half of the year. By December, Devon looked confident and happy in agility. Even though we didn’t Q all weekend in her last trial of 2011, I’m so proud of her attitude and performance. We’re getting there, and I can’t wait for next weekend when we get to step to the line again.

The one thing I have learned with Devon is it truly is a pleasure to step to the line with her in any venue. She is a happy willing worker, but she really does it so we can have fun together. When I remember that, magic happens!